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September 12, 2018

Camden City Council resolution paves way for clean needle exchange program to resume

Camden's Area Health Education Center operated a needle exchange program from 2008 to 2016

Opioids Needle Exchanges
Opioids pills needles Contributed image/Pixabay

A district judge ruled Wednesday that nonprofit organization Safehouse's proposed safe injection site in Philadelphia, which would be the first in the U.S., does not violate federal laws.

Camden City Council approved a resolution Tuesday that may allow the Camden Area Health Education Center to resume its needle exchange van program, ending some uncertainty. But another hurdle remains.

The 6-0 vote by the City Council comes just two weeks after U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a New York Times op-ed that he would bring "swift and aggressive action" if a city approved a safe injection site for opioid users.

Of course, the clean needle exchange van, which the Courier Post reports operated from 2008 to August 2016, is not the same as a safe injection site. Safe injection sites are places where drug users can take opioids under the supervision of medical personnel and without fear of arrest. 

AHEC Executive Director Martha Chavis said the mobile facility will offer clean needles, fentanyl testing strips, health screenings, and referrals for treatment. Chavis and the AHEC hope to resume operations by October.

At one point, the van was serving somewhere between 250 and 350 people each week, according to a story last year from WHYY

Camden Mayor Frank Moran told the Courier Post he doesn’t want the needle exchange to become a permanent Camden institution, but he can “understand the short-term needs and understand the health concerns.”

Even after this resolution, the AHEC’s van needs one more OK before it can resume its work: The state legislature still must approve individual needle exchange programs.

A 2017 report by the Association of State and Territorial Health Organizations showed that "syringe and needle exchange programs have been shown to decrease the spread of blood-borne pathogens, improve survival among self-injecting drug users, and increase access to health services and addiction treatment, without leading to increases in drug misuse.”

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